Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Spring Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
In The City of God, Saint Augustine recounts the following exchange between Alexander the Great and a pirate he captured. “What gives you the right to disrupt the sea-lanes by force?” asks Alexander. To which the pirate boldly replied, “What gives you the right to disrupt the whole world by force? I use a small ship, so I’m called a thief; you use a great fleet, so you’re called an emperor.” In this class we’ll explore popular depictions of pirates (in movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series and literature) and compare these with historical narratives of piracy. We will also, as St. Augustine’s anecdote suggests, inquire into how piracy gets defined and what it might tell us about the dividing line between legality and illegality, relations of force, and the fantasies and practices of opposition to dominant social structures. While our main focus will be on piracy in the Atlantic Ocean in the 17th and 18th centuries, we will also discuss contemporary forms of piracy such as the Somali pirates and internet piracy.
This class will explore varied models and practices of cultural criticism with an eye towards identifying the skills and knowledge necessary for analyzing cultural objects such as works of literature and visual art, music, film, and architecture.  We will juxtapose claims that criticism should aspire to scientific objectivity and identify deep structures and patterns of culture alongside views that it is itself a species of artistic activity dependent upon subjective response.  The roles of description, aesthetic and normative judgments, advocacy, political critique, and regulative ideals will be considered, as will modes of criticism (academic, journalistic, literary, online) and changing models of the critic as commentator on the passing scene, engaged tastemaker, preserver of values, and agent of social transformation.  We will closely analyze a few paradigmatic works in different media and read writings by critics and philosophers, such as Rousseau, Herder, Diderot, Stendhal, Pater, Jakobson, Arnold, Baudelaire, Levi-Strauss, Freud, Adorno, Benjamin, Kracauer, Paglia, Sontag, Barthes, Brookner, Stewart, Marx, Lukacs, Jameson, Hall, MacDonald, Spitzer, Burke, Frye, Trilling, Kael, Orwell, Hebdige, Williams, James, West, Baldwin, Steiner, and Scott as instances of the fundamentally pluralistic enterprise of cultural criticism.  A take-home midterm and final research paper will enable students to analyze cultural works of their own selection.  Instructor: Edward Dimendberg
The term “Black Internationalism” refers to a movement of African and African diasporic peoples to unite across national and ethnic boundaries.  In dialogue with the Socialist tradition (often identified with the rise of the industrial worker in the late 18th century) and Communism (a movement established by Marx and Engels in 1848), Black Internationalism developed into a race- and culture-based critique of these allied European movements.  The first Pan-African Conference was held in London in 1900, giving birth to many subsequent activities that joined together the cultural elites of the Black world and advancing what is arguably the greatest challenge to—and extension of—Enlightenment thought.  In this course, we will study the literature of Black writers involved in the political and cultural agitation of the 20th century.  Readings will include writings by W. E. B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Paulette Nardal, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, C. L. R. James, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Edouard Glissant, Paul Gilroy, and Brent Hayes Edwards.
This upper-division course in multicultural studies introduces students to the interventions that Indigenous scholars have made in the field of feminist theory. Through their engagement with literary and theoretical course materials produced by Indigenous feminist-identified scholars and artists, students examine multiple intersections of gender, race, Indigeneity, patriarchy, and settler colonialism to consider how Indigenous women, men, and non-binary people have different experiences of settler-colonial violence and oppression in the United States, Canada, and Hawaii. Course readings include creative and critical literature written by Indigenous writers from Anishinaabe, Chickasaw, Esselen/Chumash, Kanaka Maoli, Unangax, Klamath, Mohawk, Menominee, Diné, Muskogee Creek, and Athabaskan Peoples/nations/tribes.
Over the last several decades, literary studies, along with many other disciplines, has refashioned itself through world-systems theory, insisting on a one-world model. Com Lit 123, “After World Literature,” traces the origins and evolution of World Literature as a concept and interrogates its implications as a regulatory system that drives how national and local literatures circulate around the world. By reading both fictional works and critical essays, the course examines the relationship between canon formation and global literary form, between the vitality of non-European languages and translation, and between the politics of representation and literary autonomy. The reading list includes titles from writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, Zakes Mda, Mahmoud Darwish, and Orhan Pamuk and critics such as Emily Apter, Franco Morretti, Aamir Mufti and Debjani Ganguly.

The course explores the ways in which films for German cinema and TV construct German history. In this course we will analyze how the public and historians have battled over these visual representations of history and investigate the ways such films can be utilized as historical documents themselves. From examples of Weimar Cinema to contemporary film and TV productions we will discuss films as products of the culture industry and as expressions of popularly understood history and national mythology. We will view these film as evidence for how social conflicts have been depicted in Germany and as evidence of how popular understanding and interpretations of the past have been repeatedly revised from the Weimar Republic to contemporary Germany.

This course is cross-listed with GERMAN 160 and FLM&MDA 160.  
CL190W, Spring 2020
The Detective Story and Theories of Reading

‘X’ marks the scene of a crime; but ‘X’ also marks the site of reading, in the sense that, like a puzzling crime, an innovative text (story or film) challenges our ability to read it. This course proposes to use the detective story (texts about how crime can or cannot be solved) to introduce theories of reading. By examining different kinds of detective stories and the critical and theoretical issues they directly or indirectly pose, the course will serve as a gentle and entertaining initiation to current critical theory. Texts studied will include the pioneering work of E.A.Poe and Conan Doyle (‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘The Purloined Letter’, and the Sherlock Holmes stories); the ‘hard-boiled’ transformation of the genre in films like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘Chinatown’; and stories showing the detective at the center of a new kind of malaise in the contemporary city (Paul Auster’s ‘City of Glass’) and in cyberspace (Ridley Scott ‘Bladerunner’).